A Maplewood church, trying to do good work last fall by acting as a temporary homeless shelter for area families, wasn't supposed to be doing that -- at least according to the city.Turns out, the conditional use permit for Woodland Hills Church didn't allow for homeless parents and children to spend a month sleeping there.

The city allowed the families to continue their stay in October until an alternate site could be found. In November, the church applied for a permit revision from the city. It appears the city is close to granting it.

The Maplewood City Council planned to vote on the church's request last Monday, but the church representative fell ill. The council will now review the item on Jan. 24, City Manager Jim Antonen said.

He expects the permit revisions to pass. "Any time you can get the faith-based community in social issues, particularly in this day and age of reduced revenues and cutbacks, it's a positive thing for the community," Antonen said.

According to a report prepared by Tom Ekstrand, senior planner, and Chuck Ahl, assistant city manager, city staff recommends that the council approve the permit if the church brings its building up to safety codes and constantly supervises the shelter.

Woodland Hills hopes to host the shelter two months a year, and the city staff would like the church to notify the city which months are selected.

The church had been serving as a host site for Project Home, a private-public partnership between Ramsey County and the St. Paul Area Council of Churches. "This is a tangible way we can serve people," said Charley Swanson, communications pastor at Woodland Hills.

Project Home relies on about 30 churches, synagogues and religiously affiliated schools to provide year-round overflow housing when the Ramsey County Family Service Center is full, said Sara Liegl, Project Home director.

Each site volunteers for a month at a time, and houses up to 20 homeless parents and children per night. Two sites are now in operation; Liegl said Project Home hopes to fund a third site in the second half of the year.

The partnership has provided overflow housing for Ramsey County for 14 years. Most of the sites are in St. Paul, which does not require each site to amend its use permit to host a shelter. The program receives some funding from the city, as well as the county, the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Liegl said.

Demand for overflow shelters in St. Paul has shot up since the economic downturn. It costs about $10,000 to run the church sites each month, Liegl said. That covers some insurance, transportation from the Family Service Center where the families spend their days, linens and some staff costs. Liegl is the only full-time staff member, and has two part-time staff members.

"It's a project that we really appreciate being a part of," said Swanson, at Woodland Hills Church. "It's a community that wants to be serving those who are less fortunate."

Emma L. Carew • 651-735-9749